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Women journalists Increasing in Number, But Face Many Challenges

Although there are many more women journalists in Burma now, they face many challenges while trying to do their job.....

Although there are many more women journalists in Burma now, they face many challenges while trying to do their job.

Since 2007, the number of women in the field of journalism has increased tremendously in both magazines and weekly journal publishing houses.

“If there are 30 journalists at a publishing house, 17 were women. So, there are more women than men. More women are getting placed as Editor in Chief, editors and editors in charge posts”, an editor, who requested anonymity, told the Thailand based Kachin News Group (KNG).

A senior freelance reporter, based in Rangoon, also said, “I also heard there are more women journalists than males in many journals. Nearly the whole office of Modern Journal is run by women”.

Every year, over 35 out of 40 students at the government run journalism school in Botataung Township, Rangoon, are women.

But several women journalists are getting annoyed by the treatment received from some government ministers while trying to cover news and events related to various government departments.

“Sometimes I am so disappointed when I have been asked by the ministry authorities to go back and show them the story because the stories are not allowed to be published without their (ministry) final approved”, said a senior female journalist from a weekly journal.

She also said, “If I did not go back and show the story, I will no longer get (access to) interviews in the future. So, I avoid writing news of the ministry.”

According to a November 2009 report by the Ministry of Information’s, Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), a total of 162 Magazines and 138 weekly journals were given permission to publish.

This increase in the number of publications shows increasing participation of women journalists in Burmese media is getting good results, according to local editors.

“We feel more confident about increasing the number of women in our office, because male reporters pay less attention on the job and women are more serious and hard working than men. And they are ambitious and write more news and articles to get more money”, said an editor, who runs an office with mostly women.

A senior freelancer said the main reason why more women journalists are getting  involved in media is, “Media is related to protecting the public interest and more women are engaged in the media to work at seeking the truth”.

Moreover, women are getting more favor from particular government ministries, having opportunity to get some news tips that male reporters are not able to get.

An assistant editor of a well known weekly journal also said, “Some sources give us (women) interviews easily, when men were rejected by the same sources. Several interviews were easily done by females, when male reporters failed to get them”.

But, Burmese culture makes it difficult to attend late night events to get news.

“We (women) cannot follow news till midnight and we cannot stand by like men do. We cannot attend important events held at night. And, it is not possible to write about night clubs and drugs issues because I am a woman”, said an assistant editor of a weekly journal, based in Rangoon.

Moreover, female senior reporters get paid the same as junior reporters, said a female senior reporter.

“Our biggest difficulty is about salary. I have been working for 3 years, but, have received no salary increase yet. I make 40,000 kyats per month. So, I still need financial support from my family”.

Generally, the basic salary of a junior reporter is 40,000 kyats ($40) per month at weekly journals based in Rangoon. Senior reporter’s salary is 20,000 kyats ($60) more.

She also said, “I could not even afford to take a taxi, so, I went to the government ministry office by bus. If we took taxi, we have to pay, the office did not pay for it. Once, I was lost about one hour in a suburban area after going to interview an economic expert there”.

So, more journalists prefer to work as freelancers than desk reporters and have formed freelance groups. Most freelancers report for several local journals.

“I love to work freelance and want to stay independent. That’s why I choose freelance. There is no guarantee of income like a desk reporter, but less stress”, said a male freelancer who worked for several years as a desk reporter in a popular weekly journal, based in Rangoon.

But there are less professional freelancers than desk reporters. Most of them are shifting from one local journal to another, after the journal they were writing for was banned by the government.

All local journals and publications are scrutinized by the censorship board. Rangoon based foreign news wires are not. But, several journals with owners related to high ranking officials, are getting special favor to publish some news not allowed to run in other journals.

Nevertheless, the women journalists and freelancers, who work under severe censorship in Burma, press on for freedom of the press.